The chief of Oakland's embattled police department said Wednesday that he is stepping down due to medical reasons.
Chief Howard Jordan abruptly told City Administrator Deanna Santana and the rank-and-file that effective immediately he is on medical leave and taking steps toward medical retirement.
"Through my 24 years of wearing an OPD badge and uniform, I have emulated the department's core values: Honesty, respect and integrity — values I observed in the men and women who worked with me and for me," Jordan said.
Jordan's resignation came at a crucial time for the city, which continues to deal with one of the nation's most violent crime and robbery rates. He also faced mounting challenges in leading the force after city officials relinquished broad powers late last year over the department to a court-appointed director to avert an unprecedented federal takeover over reforms involving a brutality scandal.
After serving as chief for less than two years and doing two stints as interim chief, Jordan did not specify his medical condition. He said his decision was difficult but necessary.
Jordan's stunning announcement came moments before a scheduled news conference where consultant and former New York and Los Angeles police chief William Bratton was to present a plan on how Oakland could reduce crime. City officials quickly cancelled the event.
Santana and Mayor Jean Quan were scheduled to talk about Jordan's departure later in the day.
The departure of Jordan, who also served as an assistant chief and head of internal affairs in Oakland, came as a surprise, said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank for police chiefs.
But, Wexler said, "being the police chief in Oakland may be one of the toughest jobs in the country."
Oakland has "high crime, a police department with a shrinking force in a poor economy, trying to complete a consent decree and working with a compliance director," he added. "To make the changes necessary with such limited resources is a daunting task."
Jordan previously served as interim chief after Wayne Tucker resigned in 2009. Jordan was at the helm during the deadliest day in Oakland police history when four officers were shot and killed by a parolee after a traffic stop.
During that time, he publicly lobbied for the permanent job, but then-Mayor Ron Dellums lured Long Beach Police Chief Anthony Batts to Oakland.
Batts resigned as the Occupy Oakland movement began its encampment outside City Hall. He cited frustration about having limited control over decision-making in the department. Jordan was named interim chief again in October 2011 and sworn in as chief four months later.
He led the department during numerous Occupy protests in Oakland that attracted international attention and drew criticism of police tactics. Jordan and city leaders would later acknowledge the actions of some officers were inappropriate.
Jordan and city leaders faced criticism by U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson for failing to fully implement court-mandated reforms stemming from a decade-old police scandal.
The judge warned that the department could be placed in federal receivership if it did not achieve reforms to settle litigation over claims that several rogue officers beat or framed drug suspects in 2000.
Henderson recently named police consultant Thomas Frazier as the department's compliance director to ensure that reforms are finally completed. The judge gave Frazier the authority to fire Jordan and his command staff.
In a 59-page report last week, Frazier was highly critical, saying punishment of officers for misconduct was rare. He also criticized the department's top brass.
That report may have been a sign for Jordan, said attorney John Burris, who has been overseeing the brutality lawsuit settlement.
"I think the compliance director's view was you need to have a fresh start and (Jordan) resigned voluntarily because he could see the handwriting on the wall," Burris said.